Some 39 days after the Christchurch mosque massacres, social media sites are still struggling to stamp out copies of the gunman's video.

New York-based researcher Eric Feinberg reported he had found another 12 copies across Facebook (which was hosting five copies), Facebook-owned Instagram (six) and Google-owned YouTube (four). All were live as of Monday NZT.

One of the versions on YouTube - two minutes and 17 seconds of "highlights" - had clocked 773,009 views according to a screen grab taken by Feinberg on Monday.

"It was posted on March 15, 2019 and still up on April 21, 2019 at 5.10pm EDT," Feinberg told the Herald


Some 4000 people viewed the gunman's first-person video in the hour before Facebook finally took down the 17-minute clip after being alerted to its presence by NZ law enforcement (the social network's AI systems and other safeguards having failed to detect it).

Hate content researcher Feinberg has been continually locating copies of the clip - which has been banned by NZ's Chief Censor - since March 15.

A Google spokeswoman said: "In the wake of the shooting, we saw an unprecedented volume of attempts to post videos with footage from the shooting, at times coming in as fast as a post per second."

Tens of thousands of copies had been removed. Users were encouraged to flag any remaining copies they came across. In the wake of the Christchurch attack, Google suspended the ability to filter YouTube searches by date in an "unprecedented move," she said. And Google has since restricted YouTube livestreaming via a mobile to those who have 1000 subscribers or more.

Facebook has resisted making any changes to its livestreaming policy, with founder Mark Zuckerberg making a "greater good" argument.

The Herald has not clicked on offending social media posts identified by Feinberg, but US and UK media, and Facebook itself, have verified the authenticity of his previous findings.

Presented with earlier links uncovered by Feinberg, a Facebook spokesman said there was an ongoing effort to eliminate all copies of the alleged gunman's video.

On April 11, a US Congressional hearing was told the clip was not gory enough to trigger Facebook's automated filters.

Facebook founder and chief excutive Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook founder and chief excutive Mark Zuckerberg.

"You can train AI [artificial intelligence] to effectively look for things like nudity using data like skin tone - i.e. a high level of skin tone in a particular piece of content make flag it for human review and actioning," a Facebook insider said.

"[But] in graphic violence content, we do use data around things like tones and colours that may identify or imply violent content, however, the AI did not identify this in the Christchurch video."

Facebook has turned its attention to audio - and specifically, sounds that could be gunshots - in its ongoing attempts to recognise terror content in its realtime videostreaming service Facebook Live, which has continued to be available to all Facebook users with no limitation since March 15.

Local vs global action

Feinberg's latest alert comes as Jacinda Ardern's government prepares to take what the Herald understands will be a leadership role in a social media crackdown.

The PM says the global nature of social media platforms requires a global response.

A number of other leaders have agreed, including Australian PM Scott Morrison, who requested that a social media crackdown be put on the agenda for the G20 meeting in Japan late in June.

But Morrison was also quick to initiate a local response as well.

In the first week of April, the Australian government has passed tough new legislation that threatens social media companies with fines up to 10 per cent of their revenue and their executives up to three years' jail if they fail to remove "abhorrent violent material expeditiously."

A few days later, the UK government proposed to make social media executives personally liable for harmful content distributed on their platforms, plus tough new content guidelines - although it's still not clear when and how the new rules will take force.

In the aftermath of this weekend's terror attacks, the Sri Lankan government blocked social media sites (as it did after violence last year), saying misinformation and hate speech on Facebook, Instagram and other platforms could sow confusion and incite more violence.

(In New Zealand after March 15, our largest internet service providers blocked a number of websites known to have hosted the alleged gunman's video or related hate content, but the large social media platforms were left alone. On March 27, Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees said they had planned to stop site-blocking, which they saw as undesirable long-term, but government intervention saw them voluntarily extend it to the following weekend).

And earlier, on January 1 last year, Germany introduced a new law that requires social media companies to delete offensive posts within 24 hours or risk a fine of up to €50 million. The German law follows the EU principle that social media sites are publishers. Facebook and others prefer to style themselves as neutral platforms - although since March 15 Facebook has voluntarily initiated a crackdown on nationalist groups.

Watchdog has misgivings about clampdown

Council for Civil Liberties chairman and Tech Liberty founder Thomas Beagle has long been wary of the potential of "protective" laws to be used for political censorship or to otherwise undermine free speech.

Beagle says that fringe sites, usually hosted offshore, will ignore any social media crackdown law, while the answer for Facebook and other platforms is for them to develop better systems to filter or block content that violates their terms.

Tech Liberty founder and Council For Civil Liberties chair Thomas Beagle. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Tech Liberty founder and Council For Civil Liberties chair Thomas Beagle. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The privacy campaigner says law changes across the Tasman were rushed and poorly thought-through. He says they will prove ineffective. "

Beagle adds, "As for New Zealand, it appears that our current censorship law is already providing a way to stop the distribution of this type of video by declaring it to be objectionable. This can be used against both the large media companies and individuals sharing this type of video."

The Chief Censor David Shanks rated both the alleged gunman's video and his so-called manifesto objectionable, meaning they are illegal to share or view. The ban applies from when the content was created, not the moment when it was rated. An individual who violates the ban unknowingly faces a fine of up to $10,000. Someone who knowingly shares it faces a prison term of up to 14 years. Organisations who breach the ban face fines running into six figures.

Shanks' deputy noted that enforcement is at police discretion. But action has been taken against a Christchurch businesses man and a Christchurch teen, both of whom were taken into customer for allegedly sharing the clip.

Netsafe head Martin Cocker agreed with Ardern's position that a social media clampdown had to be coordinated among multiple countries.

"I don't think there's any regulation that New Zealand could write that would have made any practical difference on March 15," Cocker told the Herald.

Whose law does Facebook fall under?

NZ Privacy Commissioner John Edwards has been attempting to assert his authority over Facebook and other social media since March 15, with limited results.

Edwards asked the social network to give NZ Police details of every Facebook account that had shared the alleged gunman's video - an act he regarded as an "egregious" violation of the victims' privacy rights under NZ law.

The social network refused.

Edwards also asked Facebook to supply him with statistics on the number of self-harm, suicide and sexual assault incidents that had been broadcast on Facebook Live. He was not given that information.

"We have to follow the law," Facebook's top content cop Monkia Bickert told the Herald.

The question, however, is which country's law.

At the start of last year, Facebook's terms of service put its New Zealand users under Irish privacy law (a bit tangential but, after all, it was where NZ advertisers were billed as the social network sought to minimise its tax bill).

That meant Kiwi Facebook users were in line to be covered by strict new EU privacy rules. Ireland is, after all, part of the European Union.

But as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) kicked in on May 25, 2018, Facebook changed its terms for NZ users, putting us under US privacy law.

Edwards was not impressed at the social network's pick-n-mix, approach.

"I remain of the view, based on expert advice on how private international law works, that Facebook is subject to New Zealand law in relation to the collection, use, storage, access and disclosure of personal information," he said.

Ardern is expected to release more details of her Government's plan to lead a global crackdown in coming weeks.